Kaneland John Stewart Elementary School bucked the odds this year.
The Elburn school managed to make "adequate yearly progress" on its state report card, one year after failing to do so and being forced to offer students the choice of attending a different school.
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Although it didn't hit the benchmark of having 92.5 percent of students in all subgroups "meeting or exceeding" state standards, enough of its low-income students improved scores to fall into "safe harbor."
"We worked really hard," said Principal Laura Garland. "There certainly was no magic solution."
You can't blame administrators if they secretly hope for a magic solution or a magic wand they could wave to simplify explaining the test scores and other state report card data released today. Educators have to explain to parents and residents why the number of students who met or exceeded state standards dropped precipitously, and why even more schools failed to make adequate progress toward the goal of having 100 percent of students score highly on the standardized tests that will be given in spring 2014.
School officials have been warning the public for almost a year that things were going to look worse when this year's student assessment scores came out. Not because their students did worse from year to year, but because the state raised the level at which a student could be said to meet or exceed expectations. It was like changing grading scales back to the old days, when you needed a 93 to get an "A," not a 90.
Content for standardized tests taken in the spring was tougher than the 2012 test, because about 20 percent of the questions were related to Common Core State Standards, said Brad Newkirk, the Batavia school district's assistant superintendent for instruction.
The thing is, what students had been taught wasn't fully aligned yet to Common Core.
So more schools failed to make adequate yearly progress.
Of the 58 schools in the Kaneland, West Aurora, Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles school districts that administered the tests, only 11 made AYP.
Many failed because at least one subgroup of students failed to make AYP or safe harbor. Subgroups are broken out when there are 45 or more students in a school with a common characteristic, such as having limited-English proficiency, belonging to a particular race or ethnic group, having an individual education plan or being economically disadvantaged.
In addition to Kaneland John Stewart, three other schools in southern and central Kane County passed despite having failed in 2012: Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Williamsburg Elementary School in Geneva and Nicholson Elementary School in Montgomery.
How Stewart did it
Stewart is a Title I school, meaning it receives federal funding for its reading instruction because of its number of low-income students. It was the low-income subgroup that kept the school from making AYP in 2012.
But Stewart didn't concentrate only on that subgroup in the 2012-13 school year.
"We took a hard look at all students," Garland said.
"There were some who were performing well enough that they didn't qualify, technically, for the district's 'Response to Intervention' plan. But they were on our teacher radar," Garland said, where instructors felt the students needed something extra.
So every child gets to participate in the "power half-hour" at 10 a.m. that was set aside for students to get extra attention.
With no additional staff to address the on-the-cusp group, the Stewart educators figured out how to squeeze the most out of what they had.
"We have scheduled beyond schedule," Garland said, describing how even seven minutes of a paraprofessional running flash cards with a student can improve that child's reading ability. Every staff member is willing to pitch in, she said.
"That is something the staff has so embraced," Garland said.
Geneva High School can crow about an increase of .7 of a point in its composite ACT scores, to a mark of 24.6, the eighth-highest among high schools in the Daily Herald's coverage area.
It was followed by West Aurora gaining .3 of a point, and St. Charles North going up .2. Kaneland reached its highest composite ACT, at 21.5 out of a possible 36 points.
Kaneland High School picked up 14 points in reading and 8.3 in science on the Prairie State Assessment Examination, one of the biggest gains among all high schools in the Daily Herald's coverage area.
The Geneva district's overall ISAT composites were the best, with a 14.3 percent decline.
The lowest decline for an individual elementary or middle school was at Grace McWayne School near Batavia, with a 6.7 percent decline.